Virginia becomes first state in the South to ban LGBTQ “conversion therapy” for minors

By: - March 5, 2020 9:00 am

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law Monday making Virginia the first Southern state to outlaw “conversion therapy” on LGBTQ minors.

The scientifically discredited practice — which aims to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender — is now illegal in 20 states.

“At the Trevor Project, we hear from LGBTQ youth in crisis every day and we know that those who are subjected to conversion therapy are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide,” Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for the group, said in a statement Monday. “This bold action will send a message to all LGBTQ young people in the great Commonwealth of Virginia that they are loved and deserve support.”

Policy Watch has reported extensively on the controversy over conversion therapy and the national movement to outlaw the practice.

A bill to prohibit the practice among minors entirely, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in the North Carolina House in March last year.

Despite polls showing overwhelming bipartisan support for the ban, it faced stiff opposition from religious groups and conservative Republicans and has not received a hearing.

In August, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for “conversion therapy.”

The order “directs the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to take the appropriate steps to make sure that no taxpayer dollars are used for conversion therapy for minors,” according to Cooper’s office.

Cooper emphasized that the practice has been condemned by organizations like the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association and has been connected to self harm and suicide.

Last month Virginia became the first Southern state to pass a sweeping LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill and is now poised to pass a law banning health insurance companies from denying or limiting coverage based on a patient’s gender identity or transgender status. 

Policy Watch has covered the battle for such protections in North Carolina and detailed the change in policy under State Treasurer Dale Folwell that led to the state health care plan’s blanket ban on coverage of any treatment related to a patient being transgender.

As Policy Watch reported last year, the board of trustees of the state health care plan voted to begin covering treatments for gender dysphoria at the end of 2016, near the end of Janet Cowell’s term as State Treasurer. The move was necessary to comply with the Affordable Care Act. When Folwell came into office in 2017, he made it clear he opposed the move, calling transition-related care elective and unnecessary.

The plan’s trustees allowed the coverage to expire at the first opportunity — not renewing it for the 2018 plan year or for 2019.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina has recognized dysphoria as a serious medical issue and covered treatments related to transition, including hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery. Transgender patients and their doctors have testified before the plan’s board of trustees that the treatment is necessary and life-saving.

Despite that, Folwell has said he does not intend to change the policy until ordered to do so by court order.

State employees took Folwell at his word and sued over the change last year.

“We are more than confident the court will deliver just that order,”said Taylor Brown, staff attorney with Lambda Legal. “And explain to Mr. Folwell what the United States Constitution and federal law commands with regard to equal treatment of transgender people.”

The new raft of LGBTQ protections in Virginia had been in the works for years in Virginia but had stalled in the Republican controlled House or Senate. In November Democrats took control of both houses and the governor’s mansion for the first time in 26 years.

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Joe Killian
Joe Killian

Investigative Reporter Joe Killian's work examines government, politics and policy, with a special emphasis on higher education, LGBTQ issues and extremism.